Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

Girls encouraged to turn to Shakespeare’s heroines for new role models


Can Shakespeare’s heroines such Cleopatra, Viola and Beatrice really act as contemporary role models for teenage girls?

That’s the hope of one school in London, which has launched a new programme to help its students consider icons outside of popstars, models and reality TV stars.

With Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift being named as two of the most inspirational women among girls at Wimbledon High School, headteacher Jane Lunnon has decided it’s time to offer up a new set of heroes.

Kim Kardashian and Taylor Swift

Addressing colleagues at the annual Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference(HMC), which aptly took place in Stratford-upon-Avon, Lunnon explained:

 “My school is full of really aspirational, delightful young women, but they are just as likely to cite Taylor Swift or Kim Kardashian as a role model as Malala [Yousafzai] or Michelle Obama.

“In fact, slightly more likely, and quite passionately defend them as being great businesswomen.

 Read more: Read Caitlin Moran's heartfelt open letter to troubled teenage girls

“It’s well documented that there is a paucity of female role models who are speaking to girls at the moment, certainly in western society. It made me think, where else can we look for them?”

For Lunnon, the answer lies in the works of The Bard.

Judi Dench as Cleopatra

Judi Dench as Shakespeare's Cleopatra

Currently in its pilot phase, the new educational programme is designed to help girls explore Shakespeare’s social commentary, with a focus on studying the female characters, their stories and how their experiences can be applied to modern day.

Cleopatra, a powerful female leader, is of course in the upper ranks of Lunnon’s proposed alternative role models, along with Rosalind, the razor sharp protagonist of As You Like It, Twelfth Night’s Viola, and Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing.

Read more: Meet the 11-year-old girls who launched a feminist website to fight for equality 

“Look at Rosalind, look at Beatrice, look at Viola. Their capacity, in their challenges and dilemmas, to laugh, to be vivacious, to be resourceful, to be resilient, they embody it so beautifully. And that is a really powerful message,” adds Lunnon.

“It’s not that terrible things didn’t happen to them. It’s the way they respond. I think that is a really important message: to know what matters. Getting kids to laugh at themselves – it’s very important. And Shakespeare does that.”

Tamsin Greig as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing

Tamsin Greig as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing

In her conference address, Lunnon also flagged a recent NHS study which found that 12.6% of women aged between 16 and 24 screen positive for PTSD, while 19% have self-harmed, and 28.2% have a mental condition of some description.

The report concluded that ‘young women have become a high risk group’ with regards to mental health, which Lunnon believes is partly exasperated by the pressures of 24/7 social media and online bullying.

“Anyone who works in education with girls has spent a lot of time trying to work out what is happening and why,” she noted. “Social media and all of the messages that come through it and the roles models it promotes are incredibly influential.”

Images: Rex


gigi hadid reebok.jpg

Gigi Hadid shows off boxing prowess in empowering new Reebok campaign

joanna lumley on casual sexism and catcalling.jpg

Joanna Lumley says wolf-whistling is a “compliment”

demi lovato taylor swift 2009.jpg

Demi Lovato to Taylor Swift: “Don’t brand yourself a feminist”


This Princess Bride revelation will make you see the film in a new way

It’s been 30 years since it hit the big screen

by Susan Devaney
17 Oct 2017

What is perspecticide and could it be happening in your relationship?

This form of coercive control is incredibly damaging

by Megan Murray
16 Oct 2017

5 of the best indulgent baking books

Take a moment for yourself and make yourself some sweet baked goodness

16 Oct 2017

Here’s why your NHS doctor may ask you about your sexuality

The new directive will start in 2019

by Susan Devaney
16 Oct 2017

UK police investigate 5 sexual assault claims against Harvey Weinstein

Including one brought by Hollyoaks actress Lysette Anthony

by Moya Crockett
16 Oct 2017

#WomenBoycottTwitter: Here’s why women are refusing to tweet today

How will women going silent help their cause?

by Kayleigh Dray
13 Oct 2017

Lucy Mangan on why it's OK to feel vulnerable in these dark times

It’s reasonable to feel shaken by horrific news stories – we just mustn’t let them change us permanently

by Lucy Mangan
12 Oct 2017

Here’s what to do if your work space is driving you to distraction

Do you function better amid the chatter of colleagues?

12 Oct 2017